A bishop's questionable expertise on gun-control legislation

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Apr 22, 2013

While Bishop Blaire laments the failure of the US Senate to approve new gun-control regulations, could we inject a dash of political reality into the discussion?

The Senate did not vote against gun-control legislation. On the contrary, a majority voted in favor. So why didn’t the measure pass? Because this was a procedural vote. Under Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to close off debate, and only 54 Senators voted for cloture. That vote was a setback for proponents of the gun-control legislation, who wanted to rush the measure through the Senate without debate or amendment. But the cloture vote did not, by itself, kill the bill. The campaign for gun control petered out because proponents were not willing to proceed under ordinary parliamentary rules, allowing the possibility of amendments to their legislation.

As he withdrew the bill, Senate majority leader Harry Reid complained that 90% of all Americans would support the background checks that the legislation would have required for gun purchases. That may be so (although a 90% approval rate for anything seems impossibly high), and quite likely the Senate would have approved background checks. But the ordinary legislative process would have allowed for amendments to ease the concerns of gun owners: for instances, a proviso allowing fathers to transfer gun ownership to their children, or a clause forbidding a national registry of firearms. Those measures might have been popular with the public as well. The gun-control bill died because the White House and the Senate leadership would not entertain any such amendments.

So what should we make of the statement by Bishop Blaire, expressing “deep disappointment” with the Senate? His statement does not assign blame for the failure of the gun-control bill, but he does allow that the US bishops’ conference has been urging Congress to support such legislation, and he announces that the Senate bill included provisions that “were a positive step in the right direction.” Thus he implies that Catholic bishops and/or their representatives have the expertise to determine which measures would effectively reduce gun violence. Needless to say, there is nothing in Church teaching to support that assumption. Political judgments are the province of the laity, and the Catholic laity in America is—like the American population in general—deeply split on gun control.

But the problem with Bishop Blaire’s statement goes deeper, because actually there was no Senate “failure” to support gun-control regulations. The bill was not defeated; it was withdrawn—by its supporters. Now is Bishop Blaire criticizing Democratic Party leaders for an untimely retreat? Or is he criticizing Republicans for declining to give the Democratic leaders exactly what they wanted? Or is he saying that the bill should have been approved as it stood? Is he suggesting that no amendment could possibly have improved the legislation? Bishop Blaire might have his own personal opinions on any or all of those questions. Since they would only be personal opinions—they certainly aren’t issues on which bishops speak authoritatively—it would be best if he kept them to himself.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 11 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: mgreen32234 - Apr. 24, 2013 10:50 AM ET USA

    I only wish the equivalent USCCB pro-life committee would put out as many fervent press releases and statements urging Congress to stop the murder of the unborn, as Senator, er, Bishop Blaire does about his pet issues.

  • Posted by: Thomas429 - Apr. 24, 2013 1:37 AM ET USA

    Perhaps the good Bishop should be more concerned about religious freedom that is declining as federal power expands.

  • Posted by: michaelwilmes - Apr. 23, 2013 11:07 PM ET USA

    Sorry, Richard. I'm not a so-called "American Catholic gun lover". I'm a Roman Catholic that is tired of suffering American bishops who's politics are 3 miles to the left of Pravda.

  • Posted by: bnewman - Apr. 23, 2013 10:32 PM ET USA

    I had a nasty suspicious thought about this vote. Did the President and the Democratic party want a Senate vote on this question? It would appear so on the face of it. But the bill put many Democrats up for election in red states in a bad position if they were forced to vote yes to a gun law. They might lose some important seats in the next election. Why not pull the bill and blame the Republicans? You know the press and the odd Bishop will play dumb for you. Brilliant!

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Apr. 23, 2013 10:31 PM ET USA

    The Bishops need to reform their own house before they tackle congress. They need to admit their own criminal complicity in moving homosexual priests around and not reporting their criminal activities to the police. Then when they get out of jail they will have had sufficient time to meditate on their intended role as shepherds of the church.

  • Posted by: mario.f.leblanc5598 - Apr. 23, 2013 10:29 AM ET USA

    All this rhetoric seems to be obscuring one unfortunate possibility: if you worship the Constitution with a zeal that would be better kept for the Truth, what will you do the day abortion rights are protected by a Constitutional Amendment? I trust many American jurists are working on this right now.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Apr. 23, 2013 9:22 AM ET USA

    Using his own rationale, I think Bishop Blair should tell Congress to consider banning pressure cookers or at least doing a background. Heck on anyone trying to buy one. It is obviously the weapon of choice for home grown terrorists.

  • Posted by: richardols3892 - Apr. 22, 2013 7:44 PM ET USA

    God forbid that any member of the hierarchy say a single word that might be construed as hostile by our American Catholic gun worshipers.

  • Posted by: Defender - Apr. 22, 2013 1:43 PM ET USA

    Bishop Blaire seems to have an opinion on everything, which is all right by itself, unfortunately he uses the pedestal of the USCCB for his pronouncements. I've always liked the idea of voting on a bill without amendments (because you'd think Congress would know how to do them by now)so you can see how each politician votes on any given issue, this was another example of the administration (et al)crying for not getting its way, however. So much for the constitutional law president!

  • Posted by: the.dymeks9646 - Apr. 22, 2013 12:43 PM ET USA


  • Posted by: michaelwilmes - Apr. 22, 2013 10:31 AM ET USA

    And who is Bishop Blaire?!? Oh, the Bishop of Stockton, CA, you say?!? (YAWN) Nothing new here.